Friday, February 11, 2011

Easy Pea Soup

Do you ever get frozen peas that just aren't great? I got a huge bag of them from my little corner store.  Granted, they made no claim of being sweet or young or tender, but after the first serving of the big, starchy things I knew I wouldn't eat the next two pounds very fast.

Boston Snow Meter
...but you may have heard we've gotten a bit of snow here in Yankee Land (~6 feet total with more expected this weekend) and it's an excellent time to make soup.  JG has a deep affection for his mom's split pea soup with ham [which was only made with the bone from a big ham feast] and I happened to have a pork joint bone stashed in the freezer from a bone-in shoulder we slow cooked a while back.  I used it to make a simple pork stock, pulled out the bone and bay leaf, threw in the peas, and pureed it all together.  It was really, really good.

Stock after simmer
You could make this with a quart of store-bought stock, but you'd want to add a little powdered gelatin. Why?  Gelatin is gelling agent [guess where the word "gelling" comes from] that's derived from animal collagen, and bones/marrow release a lot of it to gives the stock more body.*  You can see it in the viscosity of the liquid in the picture above. That gelatin content is key to the texture of the soup.  As it happens, gelatin is most commonly made from pig skins and bones.**  How's that for an easy cheat?

Recipe: Frozen Pea Soup I actually used a pressure cooker [have I told you lately that I love them?] and made the stock in 20 minutes, but the directions are for a standard pot. Soup made with tender frozen peas might be too sweet.

1 tsp olive oil
1 pork bone (joint or shaft)
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp salt
3 1/2- 4 cups water
1 bay leaf

2 lbs starchy frozen peas

To serve:
cracked black pepper
crumbly cheese [I used a Mexican cotija]
hot sauce, optional [I love Cholula]

Heat oil in a medium-large pot (3+ quarts) over medium-high heat.  Add bone, veggies and salt and cook, stirring occasionally,  until spotty brown.  Add 3 1/2 cups water and scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any stuck bits.  Add bay leaf, cover, and bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer of 1 hour.

Remove pork bone and bay leaf.  Increase heat to medium-high and stir frozen peas.  Bring to the boil and cook until peas turn bright green ~1 minute.  Turn off heat and puree with an immersion blender or transfer in batches to a traditional blender. Taste and add up to another 1/2 cup [hot] water to reach desired consistency.  Check the seasoning and serve with pepper, cheese, and hot sauce [grilled cheese is always good on the side].

Stock before simmer... The brown color comes from browning the meat & veggies before adding water.

Pea Soup in 10 minutes or less:
Use a stock you trust, preferably one you've previously made and frozen. A store-bought stock with an off flavor will give you an off-flavored soup.

3 1/2 - 4 cups stock, cold or room temp.
1/2 tsp powdered gelatin (like Knox)
2 lbs starchy frozen peas
salt and pepper to taste

Combine stock and gelatin in a medium-large pot.  Let sit off heat for 3 minutes.  Turn on heat to high and bring to the boil.  Immediately stir in peas and bring back to the boil for ~1 minute, then remove from heat and puree.  Add additional water if necessary to reach desired consistency.  Season to taste.

*You know how sometimes when you refrigerate a leftover roast or a chicken half and the next day all the pooled juices have turned to jelly?  Or pan gravy made from drippings  goes from velvety when warm to bounce-a-quarter-off-it stiff when cold?  That's gelatin.

** ...which is why most gummy-type candies and jellos and gelatin-set custards are not vegetarian.  Even yogurt makers sometimes use animal gelatin as a thickener.  Pectin, on the other hand, is a thickener made from fruit and agar is made from seaweed.


  1. I am reading your website over lunch while eating my frozen dinner. (Wait, do i get any props, because it's Amy's and all oranic.. maybe not). Despite your testimonial (and i remember the days when you couldn't cook), i think there is no hope for me. Could you do a post on healthy food to cook a toddler when you get home from work and he's starving (i usually have a 5 minute window in which I microwave something- boo me!). (nice site!)

  2. I've eaten many an Amy's frozen dinner, Liz,[my favorite: mattar paneer with curried chickpeas] though my go-to work lunch is a pb&honey with an apple on the side. It used to be an apple and a cup of coffee, but times have changed a bit.

    As I'm sure you know, 5 minutes is not a lot of time. My first thought is to scramble an egg with frozen veggies (nuke the veggies for 30-60 seconds first). My second is make a big batch of brown rice once a week and make veggie fried rice to order (just use enough olive oil to keep the rice from sticking to the pan... it's more like pan-heated rice & veggies bound by egg). Eggs are a pretty great meal and my favorite instant-dinner... but I'll think about it a bit and try to come up with more options.